Tim Foley took part in Venture Up 2017, our leading entrepreneurship programme for NZ’s young leaders.
During his time at VU in Auckland, he worked on a validating a business idea called SmartShelf, a weight-sensing shelving system that sends real-time stock data directly to store managers and buyers.
A year on from the programme, we caught up with Tim to hear what’s changed; talking achievements, tech, and his top tips for new startups.
What were the top things you took away from the Venture Up 2017 programme?
I learnt a lot about working as part of a team and persevering through cold calls to get valuable information and customer validation. I also developed a lot of relationships with some really awesome and inspiring people, like alumni and bitcoin savant Thomas Goodin.
Tell us a little bit about Smart Shelf, the business you were working on at VU17. What problem were you solving for the customer and why are you passionate about solving this problem?
Smart Shelf was a project that was born out my experience working in several supermarkets. While working, I had noticed that I was spending a lot of time counting the empty spaces on the shelves to know what stock I’d need to load up on a trolley back in the storeroom. I figured that if the shelves could automatically read their contents and display that info in the storeroom it would save me about ¼ of my time as a worker; making me much more productive.
It’s not hard to understand why store owners would like this too – more productive staff means less wasted cost and sensors in every shelf would collect qualitatively and quantitatively rich data. Our group had 3 students with programming experience. We managed to create a proof-of-concept prototype that was made of 4 loads cells that we had ordered online from China and two slabs of MDF from Bunnings. We garnered interest from a collection of supermarkets across New Zealand, some who were willing to trial the realised product. Unfortunately, after returning home from Venture Up, we were spread across different parts of New Zealand and that made it difficult to continue with the project.
What developments in the tech space are you most looking forward to?
For me personally, I see automation as the most revolutionary incoming change to our world. The two major prerequisites for automating something are being able to
- Collect the relevant data (IOT)
- Automatically analyse that data (machine learning, data science)
These days good sensors are getting cheaper and cheap sensors are getting better. If you go online it only costs a few dollars to get a cheap microphone, camera, load cell etc from China. This tech will inevitably get cheaper, meeting price thresholds and making certain implementations and businesses viable. With the right skills (obtained from YouTube) someone can create a bootstrapped prototype that partly or fully automates a variety of jobs.
What has been your biggest achievement since VU17, personal or otherwise?
After completing Venture Up, I entered the Victoria Business Case Competition with a VU alumnus, Thomas Littleworth. We came first place. And this year I finished the coursework for my Masters of Software Development and will be heading into a machine learning internship in the near future!
Do you have any current projects on the go? And whats inspiring you most about these projects?
Currently, I am focused on my internship which is the final component of my Master’s degree. After that, I will be on the lookout for my next opportunity.
Do you have any top tips for those embarking on the journey of creating a new business?
- Validate your problem early.
- Don’t get distracted by solutions that don’t yet have problems.
- Assemble a varied team with skills that complement each other.